Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Reviews: How far behind can you afford to fall?

Here are screenshots, taken today, of two similar businesses we met over two years ago...


  When Greene & Co joined these three locations had zero, zero and three reviews respectively, very like the business on the right (and I'm sure they won't mind admitting - it's a matter of public record after all - that those three were not quite as complimentary!),

 ...the difference? Nothing discernible - except the one on the left has been a client of ours since then (and, apparently, keeps longer hours!).

 
The latest review from one of the four categoiries of reviews - buyer/seller/landllord/tenant - on a single branch. Just how reassuring do you think a review like this is for someone considering using this business?

We don't know about the second business, but we do know that Greene & Co a very pleased indeed to be where they are today - both on their own website and on Google. And not just because they look great in both places - which they do. They have found that, in consequence:
  • they get more enquiries, both direct and through their website
  • they win more instructions - their negotiators carry their reviews with them - usually on an iPad
  • they look great - in search and on their own website - by comparison with their competitors
  • office morale is boosted - even estate agents enjoy reading just how good a job they have done!
  • feedback has become a useful management tool
  • they can relax about 'having the right reviews solution' and, importantly, compliance with the CMA regulations

What made Greene & Co join*? In a single word? Trust. They trusted us with their reputation, and they trusted us to give them the best advice and follow that up with a professional service. And the ensuing results have proved us both right.

*Of course there was more, much more - and it's encapsulated in the articles on this blog and, right up-to-date, in this presentation

Five ways to get great reviews - and a great score - on Google...

...but only one of these will ensure that your business looks as good as it possibly can everywhere that matters, with no downside at all.

The five:
  1. Do-it-yourself - straight to Google
  2. Do-it-yourself - via an independent reviews site
  3. Do-it-yourself - via your own website
  4. Do it in conjunction with your web designer
  5. Do it with HelpHound

1. Straight to Google

Many businesses try this at first; after all, they run a great business and no-one will have anything negative to say about it, will they?

All customers are invited to post a review to Google (All - thus complying with the CMA rules) making sure they understand that they can post whenever the wish (also compliant).

To make absolutely sure the business is complying -  an invitation to post a review to Google is added to its website and at the bottom of all its email communications.

Pros: as compliant as any business can be without outside - independent - help

Cons: no independently verified reviews on the business's own website - and the slightly nerve-wracking feeling that even those that do rate the business 5* may include inaccurate or misleading statements in their review.


2. Use an independent reviews site

There are certainly plenty to choose from - many hundreds at the last count. There are all-encompassing sites like Yelp and specialist - industry specific - sites like TripAdvisor. The core principle of most of these sites is that the business invites their customer to post a review and then the site adds value to the reviews of that business by - in some ways - adding credibility and visibility.

This is where the issues arise...

Pros: it's better than doing nothing - possibly.

Cons: let's look at those twin advantages. First - credibility: to be credible the solution must, at the very least, comply with the CMA rules (they are analysed in full here, but, at their simplest they state that a customer must be able to write a review of the business in question at a time of their own choosing). Somewhat surprisingly we still see non-compliant solutions being marketed to business daily.

Secondly: visibility. Independent reviews sites used to show up well in search, but over the last three years their visibility has decreased - usually at the expense of Google reviews. Google has been very clever: they still display a link to 'Reviews from the web' in the knowledge panel and the independent site will show somewhere in search, just not quite as often as it once did and not quite as prominently. As a business this shouldn't worry you - it's far more a disadvantage for the review sites than it is for businesses, who can always find a solution that plays to Google's strengths. 

There's a 2.b we see more often as time passes - and it plays fast and loose with the independent sites and Google. The business simply asks its customers to post to a less-than-prominent independent site and then asks those customers that have posted a five star review to copy their review to Google. We first noticed this in 2016 when a large estate agency went from scoring 2.1 on Google with less than a dozen reviews to scoring over 4.0 from over fifty reviews within the space of a month. If a business's score on Google is at odds to its score on a site it pays - we look harder (and if we look harder, you can bet that business's more savvy competitors will do so as well - eventually).

More reading: Our current position on independent review sites 


3. Via your own website

This is where terminology is confusing (and confused, sometimes less than innocently). There are two words commonly used - 'review' and 'testimonial' - and they have increasingly well-defined meanings.

A 'review'...

...is independently verified, by an outside agency.

A 'testimonial'...

...is chosen by the business and displayed by that business.

These two definitions are increasingly enshrined in law and regulation; in the UK by the aforementioned CMA.

There are no 'pros' and 'cons' here, just 'legitimate use' and otherwise. If you control the content of what your customers are saying about you on your own website you cannot describe those comments as 'reviews', they are testimonials and should be described as such.


4. In conjunction with your web designer

We sometimes see web designers promoting their own 'reviews systems'. There are at least two variants: the first allows the business to invite 'reviews' to its own website and display them as such; the second allows the business to display chosen reviews from either Google or an independent reviews site. In both instances the fact that the business effectively controls the reviews that are displayed invalidates the mechanism - and we have yet to encounter such a system that would satisfy the CMA regulations


5. HelpHound

Here we are again! HelpHound - being review managers, not a reviews website, always has its clients' best interests at heart - and if that means...
  • having independently verified reviews displayed on your own website (which it almost always does)
  • having reviews on Google (which it generally does)
  • having reviews on Facebook (which it does, more and more)
  • having reviews on important review sites (TripAdvisor is an obvious example for our clients in hospitality)
  • ensuring you are compliant with CMA regulations (essential)
  • acting in the way you would expect any of your other professional advisors - your accountant or your lawyer - to act, being proactive with advice to keep your review management strategy current and effective
...then that is what we will do for your business.


Five key questions to ask anyone proposing a reviews solution for your business

Here's a list of questions for anyone proposing a reviews solution:
  • Show me an example of what a client of your looks like in a Google search for their business - this is what they should look like: first on a desktop...

 
  A great Google score - 4.8 - from a significant number of reviews, leading to three great rich snippets, then their own reviews: a great rating - 4.7 this time - shown, with stars (top left) and under 'Reviews from the web' (centre right, in the knowledge panel)
...and on mobile...


 Much the same (just a different layout - with their own reviews top left). Note the rich snippet from a Google Local Guide - identified by the star on their avatar.
  • Show me what a client of yours looks like in a general search - [business] + [location] (e.g. [estate agent] + [Kennington]):

  Note the Rating - in natural search for the desktop (bottom left) and mobile (bottom right) - both derived from the business's own reviews, reinforcing the impression already created by the Google rating and reviews

  • Show me what a client of yours looks like on their own website:




 Everything a potential customer needs to reassure themselves that the reviews are genuine: the 'write a review' button, a significant amount of reviews and an explanation of HelpHound's role - all just a click away

  • Show me where a customer of a client of yours is able to write their review (see the button in the screenshot above)
  • Show me where your clients promises to publish every legitimate review they receive:


 This 'promise to publish' under our logo is what gives the business's reviews credibility - and is vital for compliance with the CMA regulations

There's a supplementary you might also ask "Who owns the reviews - you or us?" After all, they are your customers - you should own the reviews.


And finally...

Speak to one of us and then get professional review management working for your business, getting it looking just like the one in the example above.





Thursday, 3 August 2017

Google reviews - encourage your customers to post images

Google tell reviewers just how many times their photos have been viewed. Here are some examples:

A restaurant...


...with over three thousand views in three months.

Another: 




A car repair service:



A shop:




A hotel:




An art gallery:



Here is an example of the weekly statistics Google send to their Local Guides*:




The message?

Encourage your reviewers to post images. They get seen - and aren't they sometimes 'worth a thousand words'?


N.B. *Be aware of the new Google points system - Local Guides are motivated by it.

BBC Watchdog: Purplebricks references reviews




Transparency works in every direction. We were interested to see that the CEO of Purplebricks referenced its TrustPilot reviews more than once when defending his business on Watchdog last night. We make no comment on TrustPilot's solution to reviews here - our views on independent review sites are well known - but we will take this opportunity to reinforce how a HelpHound client might respond if they were found in a situation where they had to defend their reviews mechanism.
 
To be completely credible, a reviews solution must fulfill the following criteria:


1. The reviewer must be able to write a review whenever they choose



 If you don't have a button like this on your website your reviews system is probably non-compliant

Before they become a customer, during the time they remain a customer, after they have ceased to be a customer.

2. The reviewer must retain the right to have their review published at any time - even if it is factually incorrect.


 If you don't offer consumers the opportunity to write a review - and have it published - whenever they want, they will find somewhere that does

The business will always have the right-of-reply, but it cannot be seen to be filtering or editing reviews.

3. The review system must be compliant with the Competition and Markets Authority's regulations

These regulations have the force of law - and we see so many independent solutions that are non-compliant. The onus on compliance is on the business - it is no defence to say 'But I was told [by the review company]...'

4. Anyone must be able to write a review

 At the risk of repeating ourselves...

Some solutions pride themselves on 'customer verification' - requiring the reviewer to prove that they have had dealings with the business. This, at first sight, looks like a great idea - but it does not work in practice; anyone who has had any experience of your business, officially a 'customer' or not, is a stakeholder in your business's reputation. If they cannot write their review via your reviews solution they can via Google - so if you want to drive them to air their negative opinions on the most read reviews site in the world use a 'verified customer' solution.

Further reading:

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

HelpHound - the five questions most asked

There are nearly a million words in the 660 articles on this blog, so there is probably an article addressing every aspect of reviews and review management anyone can think of, but it occurred to us that almost all of this can be distilled down into the answers to the five questions we are invariably asked when we first meet a potential client - so here they are:


1. How can we be sure we won't be risking our business's reputation?

This is the first, and most important, consideration for most businesses; while all good businesses want to see lots of positive comments they also welcome constructive criticism, but we are all well-aware of the damage a negative review can do, especially to a high-value service business such as wealth management, recruitment or estate agency. Put simply: a review criticising the colour of a pair of shoes is relatively harmless (potential customers will 'read through it') but a review - malicious or not - unfairly attacking a business's core values is potentially extremely harmful, in both the short and long term.

There are two aspects of HelpHound's service that our clients - and their customers - find reassuring: the first is Resolution™, our mechanism that serves potentially misleading or inaccurate reviews to the business pre-publication. We estimate that this enables businesses to manage over 95% of such reviews, including nigh-on 100% of identifiably malicious or fake reviews by competitors and disgruntled ex-customers and staff (it happens!) - and is equally welcomed by consumers - they don't want to make fools of themselves, on your website or on Google.

The second is our appeals service: if a business has a pre-existing review on a public platform (Google or TripAdvisor, for example) that potentially contravenes the platform's terms and conditions - or violates common law - we will provide professional advice on how best to appeal it.

Put simply: HelpHound is by far the safest way to engage with reviews.


2. Why shouldn't we just use an independent review site?

   
Which one? And, just as importantly, will it still be the right choice in five years' time?

Independent review sites come in all shapes and sizes, from the likes of Yelp and TripAdvisor which bestride the planet to small industry specific sites like AllAgents (estate agency in the UK only) and Feefo (online retail in the main - again, UK specific) and many serve a purpose for businesses that have specific requirements. We tend to advise against most on the following criteria:
  • visibility: Google dominates, so you need reviews there - and on your own website
  • ownership: why add value for an independent review site when you should be owning your own customers' reviews yourself (data is money in the bank nowadays)?
  • compliance: it is important to comply with the CMA regulations and many independent sites do not - the onus is on the business to comply (HelpHound will ensure you do)
  • long-term success: reviews are here to stay, you don't want to be changing systems every year or so, discarding valuable reviews as you go
If an independent review site is part of the solution for our clients, rest assured that we will recommend it, as we do with Facebook for nearly all of our clients and TripAdvisor and some of the other influential OTAs for our clients in hospitality.


Put simply: professional review management has all of the advantages of an independent review site but none of the disadvantages.


3. Can we do it ourselves? 

 Showing independently verified reviews on your own website is a proven driver of both enquiries and new business


You can always invite testimonials to your own website, they are a universally recognised marketing tool, but 'reviews' (legally defined as being verified by a third-party) are so much more powerful, because they carry so much more credibility with consumers.


  
The star rating, score and number of reviews  under this business is taken from the HelpHound reviews hosted on the business's own website - owned by the business itself, forever

To gain a star-rating in organic search like this you will need externally verified reviews. And the way you collect and display those reviews must be compliant. Here are two extracts from the CMA regulations...


 This is an extract from this article about compliance with the CMA regulations

You can invite reviews directly to an external site - Google or TripAdvisor or Yelp or any other 'open' reviews site, but to comply with the law you must invite all your customers. 



  It's easy to get a great Google score like this - you can have it with just one review - but for credibility you will need reviews in numbers, just like this, and HelpHound will give you the confidence, the tools and the support to do so

So many businesses have managed to look next to perfect on Google by hand-picking happy customers (let's face it, if a business cannot find twenty of those it will be struggling anyway, but 200+?) without realising that what they have done is in contravention of the CMA regulations - and they have the force of law.


Put simply: why deny your business the benefits of professional review management to save £tens a month?



4. What is it going to cost - in time and training as well as cash? 

Straight answer? From £60 a month (for up to 100 customers) - scaling upwards dependent on traffic - hotels, for instance, are £1 a room per month. There are volume discounts for multiple branches/locations.

We will provide you with all the training and support, both initial and ongoing, that you will need to make a success of your membership. Bear in mind that an unsuccessful member is the worst kind of advertisement for HelpHound and we're determined that won't happen.


Put simply: we want you to succeed, and we will make every effort to make sure you do.


5. Are there any guarantees?

If we don't pay for ourselves within six months of your business joining - and it's our fault (in other words: you've done as we suggest) we will refund you every penny.

You only have to look at our existing clients to see their success stories - see 'Further reading' below - and please speak to them too. One of our main 'guarantees' is the fact that we don't insist on a contract at outset (unlike many independent review sites!) - we want you to prove HelpHound works for your business  without any ties.


Put simply: join now, you have nothing to lose. 


In summary

 Professional review management doesn't just get you reviews - it gets you great reviews, the kind that attract great customers

Businesses join HelpHound so they can demonstrate their prowess and professionalism to potential customers in what has now been proven beyond doubt to be one of the most effective drivers of new business there is: effective and professional review management.

It's nice to look good in search; it's nice to look great - in the eyes of your own customers - on your website; it boosts staff morale if they see compliments in writing, and that also aids recruitment, but it's great to do more business as a direct result of all those factors combined!


Further reading:



and finally:



Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Recruitment and reviews

This month our first two recruitment consultants joined HelpHound. So we took a long hard look at that discipline - and compared it to one we know well: estate agency.

There are many things that separate recruitment from estate agency - but we are betting we can add one more to your list: reviews.

Have a look at this random selection of recruitment specialists...



None have yet found a solution that has given them the confidence to proactively engage with reviews - many have no reviews at all, some have a handful - and often those are damagingly negative in both score and content

 And now for some estate agencies...



 Reviews a-plenty

What is the difference?

One thing, and one thing only: estate agencies have tuned in to the power of reviews. So, we ask ourselves; why have estate agents stolen such a pronounced march on recruitment? For two main reasons...
  • historically, an unhappy tenant had the motivation to write a negative review to Google (often as not, complaining about non-return of deposits). Once that had happened the agency had its own motivation to get its happy clients to post reviews. 
  • competition: once one agency learned what a powerful influence reviews were - for good, for driving new business - the word soon spread

There is absolutely on reason why a business in the world of recruitment, currently looking like this in search:




Should not be looking as good as this: 




 Great reviews, and so many as to be convincing; a great score and great 'rich snippets' (the three quotes Google displays in search)  


And this (on the business's own site):




     Reviews like this, hosted on the business's own site, are proven to drive both enquiries and business


Come on in - and get the benefits of professional review management flowing.


 



Friday, 28 July 2017

Businesses abandon independent review sites

Businesses - especially those in high-value services such as estate agency and wealth management - are abandoning independent review sites in numbers.

Why? Because...


  • human nature: people are so much more motivated to write a negative review than a positive one; this means that a business that in reality has less than one or two per cent of its customers unhappy with its service might easily have anything up to twenty per cent of its reviews saying damagingly negative (and not always factually correct) things about it on any given reviews site - and served for all to see in Google search
  • why pay to look bad? It's bad enough that unhappy customers - or disgruntled ex-staff or even competitors - can post to Google and other open sites (Yelp, TrustPilot, TripAdvisor and so on) but to pay to have your business's reputation harmed - no thank you!

We are seeing increasing instances of the love affair between these sites and businesses waning. Here are some numbers from just three such businesses:



 the figures for both years are annualised to ensure equivalence


As the businesses in question have realised the potential for harm - especially considering that the businesses in question have been hosting feeds on their own websites - the businesses have begun taking action...

...at grass roots: their staff have stopped requesting reviews

...at head office or management level: review feeds on the business's own sites have been discontinued

Our advice


 So many independent solutions have the potential to end up like this - and all it would have taken to prevent the business's reputation being put at long-term risk of significant harm was one call to us


We have consistently warned readers of this blog of the various pitfalls and disadvantages of relying on independent reviews sites (read this and this and this).

It is important that businesses see review management as a discipline that needs to be taken just as seriously as any other form of marketing - and paid for accordingly. Far too many businesses have fallen for 'free trial' blandishments from some reviews sites and not looked to the long-term (or, in the cases highlighted above - not so long-term) consequences of choosing the wrong solution.

There are also the - very important - Competition and Markets Authority regulations to be considered - and so many independent solutions fall foul of these in one way or another as well.

All in all - just speak to us (especially those of you already using an independent review site). You don't have to spend a penny to do that - and you may easily end up saving your business's hard-won reputation into the bargain. At the very least you will be forewarned and forearmed.



Thursday, 20 July 2017

Google Guides - how might they influence your customers?

Google makes changes every day - some small, some large, some large that may at first glance appear small. This is one such.



Google Guides are now badged in reviews:




So what is a Google Guide?

A Google Guide is a regular reviewer - that's all. But they are a reviewer who has proactively volunteered their services as a Guide. Once a Guide reaches level 4 (it's a points system) they begin to have more influence than a 'normal' everyday Google reviewer.

How so? Well, first they get a badge to identify them (as well as the words 'Local Guide' next to every review they write - even if that business is a thousand miles from their physical home); next: we have begun to notice a pattern of Guide's reviews appearing when the search - automatically - defaults to 'Helpful', we have also noticed that Guides are being 'thanked' (the blue thumbs-up in the screenshot above) more often than the average reviewer. 


  We reckon these Local Guides are helping the Scarsdale Tavern, put it this way: they cannot be hurting it!

But try and think of it from a consumer's point-of-view: don't Guides strike you - more than most - as 'real' people. From our own experience Guides tend to take more care over their reviews - more words, more photographs, less expletives, less ratings (scores with no written review attached). It's early days, but their reviews may even end up being preferred for the influential rich snippets that Google show in every business's Knowledge Panel.


 The opposite of the reviews for the Scarsdale above, unhelpful for the business, even without the 'Local Guide' status. With it? We will let you decide.

And what does that mean for your business? We think it means, all other things being equal, that a review from a Google Local Guide is more influential - in both directions.

Recommended action

We are not suggesting you rush out a marketing campaign to attract Local Guides just yet, but just be aware that they exist. If you have a customer you know to be a Guide you might want to encourage them to post a review.

And if you have any experience of dealing with a Guide - positive or negative - we'd love to hear from you. We will doubtless be updating this article in the not-too-distant future.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Your business - Billy the Kid or Wyatt Earp?

Regular readers will know that we sometimes compare the world of reviews with the old Wild West - and just like in those far flung days there are 'goodies' and there are 'baddies' - and amongst the baddies there are snake oil salesmen too!

In this article we hope to help the uninitiated reach the right conclusion as to the correct solution for their business - for now and for the foreseeable future.



   If someone is recommending a reviews solution that seems to good to be true and is not backed up with solid real-world test cases then you need to be asking 'is this, just maybe, snake oil?'!

If you recognise anything that follows we strongly suggest you speak to us; we will advise you - professionally - how to extract your business and set it on the road to successful - and legally compliant - review management.


Successful?

Successful review management will enable your business to shine in search and impress on your own website. Those two features will drive more enquiries and more business your way. 


Legally compliant? 

Many businesses we meet have yet to understand that the onus is on them - the business - not the reviews solution or the reviews site, to comply with the law. If you are not completely familiar with the Competition and Markets Authority's rules - read this article and then call us.


Doing it (wrong) yourself:

The first temptation - especially if your business has recently been subject to a negative review - is to do one of the following:
  • hand-pick customers you think will be virtually certain to write a five star review
  • hand-pick customers who have already written you a five star review of your business somewhere else and ask them to copy it to the website that currently concerns you


This business, by their own admission, went from a handful of reviews on Google and a score of less than 2 out of 5, to this in a matter of days. How? By choosing every client that had written a five star review on a specialist independent site over the previous three years and asking them to copy it across to Google. Ingenious, but of doubtful legality.

Stop! The government regulations clearly state that what ever reviews solution you choose you must invite all your customers to write a review and they must be able to do it at a time of their own choosing

That's good news, because it gives your reviews credibility, and anyway: what business wants to have to confess to a savvy customer that their reviews are only written by their happy customers? 


Employing a 'reputation manager':


 If you see the word 'reputation' in any review solution's marketing you should question whether you are addressing the symptoms rather than the cause. better to get your own customer relationship management house in order than pay an outside agency to paper over the cracks.

There are many businesses out these that promise to 'repair your business's reputation' and they are not all selling snake oil, but many of them will take tens of £thousands and spend it on relatively ineffective or short-lived SEO when what they should really be recommending is the business clean up its own customer-facing act and then engage a professional review manager.


Employing an independent reviews site

Here is a screenshot of a review - by an employee - of an independent reviews site written on the employer/employee reviews site Glassdoor in the last week:



Ever so slightly undermined by a) the bad English and b) this, from a negative review of the same business:

 

And here is a sample of reviews of the self-same business on another reviews site:







Is it just us, or should we all begin to question the kind of operation - the review site this employee purports to work for and the review site that is hosting those negative reviews?

And just how many reviews sites are there out there?



We have counted nearly 700 in the English language alone!

We have also been in the reviews business for over ten years now and we reckon any business will reach over 90% of its market by focusing on just two...



...and will be nearly as effective if they focus simply on Google and then the site most often neglected:


   
It is only a review if it is independently verified - anything else is a testimonial 

Their own!

Of course some specialist review sites - like those in hospitality such as TripAdvisor and Booking.com - should be not be ignored (and we will advise accordingly), but just one glance at some of the publicly listed review sites' share prices will give you an indication of where they are headed.


But 'we want to be able to protect ourselves against unfair or inaccurate reviews' we hear you say...

Quite right. You need a system that allows you and your customer to interact before such a review is posted (we hear some say: 'but we have right-of-reply' -  and that is correct, but it ignores the fact that the original - damaging - score stands and impacts your business's overall score). 

Something like this.


In summary...

You need a reviews solution that:
  • will work for you irrespective of changes in the reviews landscape in future
  • is compliant
  • allows you to do your best to ensure inaccurate or misleading reviews - that are helpful to no-one - are posted
In eight words: your business needs to adopt professional review management.